Written by Sangeeta Kocharekar
Content provided by Bryan Wilkinson, Concierge at The George
Published in The Upsider on 19 September
Heritage neighbourhoods, sprawling city parks and, just a short drive away, some of New Zealand’s most stunning mountain and sea scenery – Christchurch is a must-visit in the South Island. Often overshadowed by snow and adventure-filled Queenstown, the ‘Garden City’ offers visitors a more cultural and slower-paced side to the island.
“What surprises visitors most about Christchurch is the way its new architecture and historic landmarks are wrapped in vibrant street art,” says Bryan James Wilkinson, concierge at award-winning boutique hotel The George in Christchurch.
“Wherever you go, in the city, there will be striking new images to capture your imagination and inspire.”
Hit by two major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the city has quietly rebuilt itself and is now at-the-ready to welcome visitors again.
If you’re heading to New Zealand soon and haven’t considered adding Christchurch to the itinerary, ahead, Wilkinson shares not only why you should, but also how best to soak up its culture when you do.
The best time to visit
Though the city has plenty to do year-round, spring, in particular, is a good time to visit, Wilkinson says.
“Spring has fresh, clear mornings so you can start your day with a leisurely stroll,” he says. “Or cycle along the edge of tree-lined Harper Avenue. Floating on clouds of cherry blossoms is a truly ethereal experience – they’re surrounding you on both sides.
Embarking on a boat trip down Avon River, complete with an Edwardian-attired punter and baby ducklings alongside you is another must-do spring-time activity.
The must-see sights and experiences
If you’re exploring the rest of the South Island, chances are you’ll have a rental car. You won’t be needing it in Christchurch. The best way to see the city is by foot or public transport, says Wilkinson.
“The tram is a fun way to take in the must-see sights of Christchurch, and has good-humoured commentary as well,” he says. “The Terrace and the new river promenade is a lovely walk, and you can also make a plan for which bars you will return that evening.”
Wilkinson also recommends doing a self-guided walking tour of the city’s street art. Pop into the Arts Centre, Christchurch Art Gallery and the Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA) before heading south to Evolution Square, an event space in the heart of SALT (St Asaph-Lichfield-Tuam Streets) districts.
“The area is gritty and edgy with great dining options from breakfast at C1 Espresso to lunch at Little High Eatery and dinner at the Monday Room,” Wilksinon says.
For an authentic Maori cultural experience, don’t go past living Maori village Ko Tane at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Take in a performance or book into a four-course dinner, which will see you feeding deer between courses.
For a spot of luxury shopping, boutique shopping and dining atrium The Tannery is a good bet. “Finish at Penny Black for tea with all the trimmings – fine china, table linen, tiered cake stands and elegant silverware,” says Wilkinson.
A local’s secret restaurant
A restaurant locals love, but most visitors never stumble upon is Pomeroy’s Pub, says Wilkinson. “It’s a mid-19th Century English-style pub worth a journey in itself,” he says.
“But the real prize is tucked next to it in the small but delightful Little Pom’s, a cosy neighbourhood café designed with the community in mind.”
Expect a buzzy atmosphere, an open view kitchen and a passion for the crafting of food. “There’s a real aim to harness the natural values. You know it’s good when you see people happily sitting at outside tables whatever the weather.”
The best fine dining experience
And if you’re after something a little more upscale, head to Pescatore. Tucked into The George, the restaurant is the city’s only two-hatted.
“What makes it so special is the amazing ten-course degustation menu with sublime matching wines,” says Wilkinson.
“The name Pescatore is Maltese for ‘fisherman’, but they don’t only serve the seafood the New Zealand coast does so well. Chef de Cuisine Andy Tranter and his brigade also present a beautiful Canterbury duck and beef sirloin, elderberries, bone marrow and vanilla butter.”
The best bar
Easily one of the city’s most unique bars is OGB, a speakeasy-style bar in a heritage building.
“The Old Government Building built in 1913 with its imposing Renaissance palazzo style has a powerful presence in Cathedral Square,” says Wilkinson. “The OGB bar looks the part with bartenders wearing suspenders, caps and bowler hats.”
Live music entertains guests most evenings, and, in the warmer months, al fresco dining can be enjoyed. Tucked within OGB, a speakeasy within a speakeasy, is The Parlour.
“You access it through a secret bookcase and sheer curtains. It’s a ladies-only space where ‘ladies can go to talk about gentleman’ on chairs lined with maroon velvet.”